Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing. (1Thessalonians 5:11 NRS)
Honestly, a root canal is no big deal. I had one 13 years ago, and then had it retreated on an emergency basis last week when that one failed. All I experienced was relief, though there was one moment of great discomfort…
The doctor and his assistant kept a running conversation while I was in the chair, involving me at times with questions that could be answered by grunts and shrugs.
The assistant told of her two year-old daughter and her precocious language skills. “We were at my son’s soccer game this weekend and my daughter was talking away. She was talking in sentences early and has progressed to whole paragraphs. There was a dad near us who commented on what a good talker she is. He pointed to his son, ‘This one is three and hasn’t said a thing.’ Then he hit the boy on the side of the head.”
It wasn’t long after that the doctor noticed a tear in the corner in my eye, “Are we hurting you?”
Yes, but not in the way you think.
My heart still aches for the young boy with a speech delay and a parent who is a bully. Is he receiving early intervention for his delay? I doubt it. I could be jumping to conclusions, but reading between the lines I see a parent’s ego tied up in his child’s abilities. When those abilities don’t match his standards – whack! That “playful” whack was painful enough. I hope that he does not also receive ones that are harder when others aren’t around to see.
It is normal for a parent to feel grief for a child with differences, and part of the grief process is denial. Denial can be helpful in some ways. It guards us from what we cannot yet process and accept. We are, however, not meant to dwell in the land of denial forever. It can be harmful to ourselves and those around us.
Maybe if that parent moved out of denial and into acceptance the conversation would have ended like this, “Your daughter is so inspiring. My son is working hard to get some words. He has a great therapist. I know it will happen for him someday.” In my mind’s eye there is a hug in there too.
While finding the courage to face a diagnosis can be painful, it opens the door to become an encourager. A person who encourages also empowers. The Apostle Paul set an impressive example in encouraging. Paul writes again and again to his churches, offering to “strengthen and encourage” them. Variations on the word “encourage” appear thirty times within Paul’s letters and the story of his ministry in Acts. He wrote to people being persecuted. He wrote to people who mourned the loss of loved ones. He wrote to people trying to follow the spirit of the Jesus’ teachings, but getting it wrong at times. If needed, Paul would admonish and correct, but he always followed up with encouragement. He went back to his churches and visited in person, or sent his friends, so that others wouldn’t feel alone in their struggles.
In part because of encouragement offered to the early followers, a rag tag band of persecuted people persisted and overcame hardship in order to share the good news of Christ. Encouragement empowered them to live up to their potential. A little encouragement changed the world for the better.
And so, too, can it change the life of a child.
Encouraging God, I thank you for the parents who encourage their children in all things. I pray for the children who need an encourager and ask you to send your messengers with words of hope and understanding. Tear open the veil of denial and create a pathway to acceptance. Amen
Image “Discourage or Encourage Keys” by Stuart Miles curtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net